Synopsis : Benoit Blanc returns to peel back the layers in a new Rian Johnson whodunit. This fresh adventure finds the intrepid detective at a lavish private estate on a Greek island, but how and why he comes to be there is only the first of many puzzles. Blanc soon meets a distinctly disparate group of friends gathering at the invitation of billionaire Miles Bron for their yearly reunion. Among those on the guest list are Miles’ former business partner Andi Brand, current Connecticut governor Claire Debella, cutting-edge scientist Lionel Toussaint, fashion designer and former model Birdie Jay and her conscientious assistant Peg, and influencer Duke Cody and his sidekick girlfriend Whiskey. As in all the best murder mysteries, each character harbors their own secrets, lies and motivations. When someone turns up dead, everyone is a suspect.
Press conference with Actors Janelle Monae, Kate Hudson, Edward Norton, Kathryn Hahn, Leslie Odom Jr., Jessica Henwick, Madelyn Cline, producer Ram Bergman and Director Rain Johnson
Q: Rian, these Knives Out mysteries begin with you. You did it once. You put Daniel Craig in the middle again. You cast a dozen great actors around him. It writes itself. How challenging was this to start, essentially, from scratch?
RJ: It was challenging. When Daniel and I were making the first one, even when we were on set, we were just having such a good time. We were, like, “If this does even moderately well, it’d be really fun to keep making these.” But the mode in which we were thinking to keep making them was always not to continue the story of the first one, but to treat them the way Agatha Christie treated her books and do an entirely new mystery every time, with a new location and new rogues gallery of characters. Agatha Christie did that just as a fan. As anyone who knows her work, she really shook it up book to book. It’s not just a change of whodunit. She was mixing genres, throwing crazy narrative spins that had never been done in whodunits before. She was really keeping the audience on their toes. Every single book had a whole new reason for being. Sitting down to write this one, that was the marching orders. Let’s not just turn the crank and do another. Let’s come up with something that’s truly different and that’s going to make audiences say, “Oh, wow. I’m getting the same pleasure I did from the first one, but I’ve never seen this before.” That’s kind of the exciting thing.
Q: The setting is obviously much different than beautiful New England this time around. Were you searching for a setting with the thematics you were wrestling with in the script? Or did you spin a globe, and say, “This looks right?” How did you land where you did?
RJ: There are few things. Wanting this to be a whole different movie we signaled that to the audience clearly up front. So, trading the browns of New England for the blue and yellows of Greece felt really obvious, “Oh, a whole new deal here.” As much as there’s a rich tradition of murder mysteries in cozy English homes, or in our case, New English countryside houses, there’s a rich vein of tradition of destination murders such as “Evil Under the Sun,” “Death on the Nile” and “The Last of Sheila” — which is one of my favorite films. I wrote the script in 2020 in the middle of the lockdown. So, like a lot of us, I was sitting at home, wishing I was on a Greek island. So that might have had something to do with it.
Q: For the actors assembled here: work with Rian Johnson and Daniel Craig, go to Greece. This checks a lot of good boxes. Kate, how does it happen for an actor that wants to work with a filmmaker? What did you do?
KATE: Sorry, Ram. I was slipped the script [laughs] and I knew that this part was going to be cast. I was like, “Get me in the room.” Rian said, “Sure, come on in. Let’s see what you can do with Birdie.” I did my best, and that best seemed to find me here.
Q: How do you begin casting an ensemble like this because there’s a domino effect. They all have to work well with each other, feel like the right group. Is it like a board in Seven where you have a lot of string and faces linked up? What are you doing?
RJ: It’s as simple as trying to get the best actors you can possibly get. We got really lucky that we did that with this [group]. My head spins when I think about the fact that we were able to get them together. There’s also the added element of it’s a bit like throwing a dinner party in that it’s an ensemble. We know we’re going to be on location together and be stuck together for a while. You’re just trying to cast cool people who will hopefully get along and have a good time together.
Q: You all seem to get along pretty well on and off the set. When this group was first assembled, was there a table read? Was there a moment of let’s all meet each other?
JM: Was it at Daniel’s house?
KATH: It was.
JM: Yeah, in Greece.
KATE: At Daniel’s house, it was almost like [making] an entrance. You had to walk down these steps [laughs]. Every time a new cast member came down the steps, it was like, “Oh, here comes Janelle,” It was a real meeting but it was great. It was fun. I feel like we immediately knew each other forever.
EN: Past the helicopter pad. Daniel was there in a salmon-colored linen shirt with espadrilles serving cocktails. There’s a lot more Benoit in Daniel than with that other franchise thing he’s done.
KATH: Going back to his throwing a dinner party metaphor, which is so true — there had to be a real sense of egolessness on the part of all of these humans. We really did get to it, and had to spend every single day together. It felt like there was a backstage and an on-stage. We had these holding areas where we were all together. We ate lunches together for the most part. It felt very much like we were in a theater ensemble. Leslie was talking about this last night, and he knows from theater ensembles. Rian, you also used the word “grace,” which applied to this experience as well. He was able to find a group of humans that had that. That’s really rare, a group of people who were able to be there. Starting with Daniel, who had been through it before and was there with such a welcoming generosity of spirit for every single person, to be able to… There were so many shots where the camera was on one person, but if you turned it around to see the rest of us all crowded around behind the camera for someone’s reaction shot to be there was pretty remarkable and hilarious. It’s a great metaphor for the spirit of the thing which came from, of course, Rian, Daniel and Ram.
Q: In this film there are a lot of these giant group conversation scenes in this film, with the entire cast or much of the cast. They’re tough for a filmmaker to shoot and for the actors, turning it around a thousand different ways. How did you make that work?
RJ: It was the right gang of people with the supportiveness, which Kathryn just touched on. It was people clapping for each other after they did their monologues. With a group of actors, all of whom can and have carried their own films, to come together as a true ensemble, not just so it works on the screen, but so that that spirit is really infused on set. That’s that word — grace — all these people have it. It was really fun to be a part of.
Q: Leslie, did it surprise you, that theatrical spirit? Did it immediately [have that feeling], when you got on set, you’re like, “Oh wait, I recognize what this feels like in a surprising but great way?”
LO: I’ve had a couple opportunities to be a part of great ensembles with “Hamilton” and “One Night in Miami.” This is one of the best but it’s really an impossible thing to achieve without leadership. It happens from the top down. You can’t lead from the rear or from the bottom of the call sheet, as it were, or even the middle of the call sheet. It’s really Rian, Daniel and Ram making it feel that creative, permissive and fun. So I felt it.
Q: When you all were first reading the script, who did you think was going to die first and why? Are you good at reading and predicting mysteries? Who here could see it coming?
Kath: I thought I could, but I really was surprised. When I’m talking about the ensemble, there are no spoilers here. There were some humans on the stage that had, while the rest of us were an ensemble having a great amount of fun, [some of us] had to do some pretty serious heavy lifting. I’m just saying we all have mad respect for each other. You’ll know after you see it, and then you’ll keep it to yourselves.
EN: Just based on the flow of this conversation so far, you’ll probably understand what I say, when I was reading it, I knew that Kathryn would not get who the murderer was.
KATH: But then I did [laughs].
EN: I was on page 40 and I thought, Hahn is completely going for the red herring.
KATH: He knew that before I was even cast, which is weird.
Q: Edward, this is a great role for you. Did you feel you had the license to go to some extreme fun places with Miles?
EN: When someone like Rian calls and says I’m basically running a summer camp for deeply unserious people and I need people who are willing to ham it up. It was printed on the invite. But when you’re with a group of people and it becomes apparent that the words “repetitive” and “boring” have never been applied to any of them, it’s just a lot of fun. For a lot of us who came into this through theater or the idea of being in a repertory company, an ensemble, it has a special pleasure. It reminds you of your high school drama club, for those of you who were dorky enough to be in the high school drama club. There’s a funny irony to making films or doing theater. It’s a bunch of adults playing dress up and pretending to be other people. It’s amazing how much seriousness we layer over that’s in so many of the things we do. When you strip that away — obviously this is a hardworking bunch of people — but when you liberate yourself from any pretension to be entertaining the audience, [you’re] entertaining yourselves, entertaining each other, and it’s incredibly wonderful. After a year and a half in your pajamas, it’s especially great.
Q: Janelle, you deliver an amazing performance in this film and it’s unlike anything we’ve seen. [Your character] Andi is on the outs with this group of old friends, these disruptors. But fair to say, we’ve been having a love fest so far. It sounds like you didn’t decide to go Method and be the outsider in this group. If anything, it sounds like you were almost like a team leader.
EN: I call it a B-side to “Moonlight.”
JM: I am a fan of everybody on this stage. And being able to work with Rian is a dream. I literally just told myself if I ever had the opportunity, it’s a yes. And then, after reading this script, it was a “Hell Yes.” This is a character that you get to play with. There’s so many layers, so mysterious. It took a lot of focus. There were moments where the cast was out having a blast after they did their scenes. And maybe I was in a corner, upset, jealous, mad. No, I wasn’t. We had murder mystery parties, like, outside of filming a murder mystery. Like, we’re in Greece, what can I complain about, you know? I got an opportunity to grow as an actor, I got an opportunity to also gain what I like to say family.
Q: Jessica, when you walk into a murder mystery party and Janelle Monae is in full costume, are you like, “What rabbit hole have I dived into?”
JessH: It was amazing. With Janelle, it was a guaranteed serve. If she’s was coming to dinner, she’s going to have a look and everybody else was underdressed. I don’t even know how you had the time to go find those costumes in Serbia.
JM: Well, I packed. I traveled; I have one suitcase — just in case I get invited to a murder mystery party.
JessH: Wow, did you just say you travel with a suitcase? Props. [laughs]
EN: There are very few people in the modern world who travel with one of those old-fashioned armoire chests — that opens into a full three compartment closet.
RJ: A steamer trunk.
JM: As you can see, we were not so serious the entire time of filming this.
Q: Madelyn, what’s the call like when you finally find out you’ve gotten a role like this? This is a big moment for any actor and [even moreso] for a young actor in their career to get to be a part of this ensemble.
MC: I was landing in New York. As you get close enough to the ground everybody’s phones start pinging. I got a message from Rian. He was like, “Would you have time for a call?” I panicked. I was like, “He’s going to tell me I didn’t get it.” So I said, “In an hour, I have to prepare myself.” I was like, “Wait, no, no, that’s stupid.” Yes, of course. I was huddled in a corner at baggage claim because it was so loud. Rian was on the phone asking me if I wanted to be a part of it. I was like, “You’re asking, is that even a question? Of course, I do.” Then I proceeded to have the best weekend of my life and cheers to that. It was amazing.
EN: She’s a lot younger than the rest of us and hasn’t learned yet that if you don’t get it, you hear from the Israeli producer [clears throat]. “Do you have time to talk for a minute?”
Q: Ram, what are the biggest challenges of a production like this, besides making sure the cast actually is acting and not participating in murder mystery parties?
RB: Honestly, just make sure none of them got Covid. Other than that, my life was pretty easy. You got Rian, you got Daniel, you got an amazing cast. You just stay out of the way, and make sure they do their thing. And that’s it.
KATE: Ram is playing this down. Ram you were busting your ass trying to make sure that everybody was staying in place [laugh]. It was like you were amazing and we got through it without one shutdown. It lifts the veil. Like, “Oh shit, I’m actually here. I’m in a ‘Knives Out’ mystery.” Just watching Daniel work was a privilege and he’s a consummate professional. He shows up ready to deliver every line. He honors Rian’s words and he brings something just spectacular, as any movie star would. Just to be a part of that and to learn from that and watch it was, for me, really something.
KATH: I was just floored by his physical comedy too. Like his use of… his control of his body and how he throws himself into this part physically is something that I was so excited to watch. He really is a gamer in that department, it’s really thrilling.
Q: There’s a moment where he’s running towards the pool and that’s not James Bond running [laughs]. That’s acting right there, because that man knows how to run.
EN: No, James Bond is acting. Blanc is Daniel.
Q: That’s the Daniel Craig run? This film may have the greatest fashion ensemble. Every costume in this reflects your characters so particularly, so uniquely. Who has bragging rights? Who had the best wardrobe?
EN: Actually, [as to] the wardrobe thing, they often have the polaroids up of everybody who’s been in before you. I came in pretty late. I looked at the polaroid wall and thought, this movie’s going to be pretty funny. I saw Bautista in the crocodile skin bikini and I thought there’s at least one really good laugh in this film [laughs]. you know you can’t rock it.
KATE: Every time someone would walk into the green room — if it was a new costume — it’d be like, “Oh my God.” Every time Kathryn walked in with a new beige [outfit], it was so damn funny. That’s the genius of Rian’s writing. But with Jenny [Eagan, the costume designer]… Talk about knowing how to create each iconic look. It just was so dreamy. For all of us, after talking about it so much, when we walked into Jenny’s fitting, it was like, immediately you saw your character come to life. It was like stepping right into the character, and, at least for Birdie, it was like looking into her closet which was insane.
KATH: So fun. All the rage, the beige.
KATE: But everybody, I think, had that, and Jenny was a real dream to work with.
Q: Leslie, this is a group that plays a group of disrupters. Who among your cast mates here would you consider the greatest disrupter? Who stirs the pot the most, in the best possible way?
LO: It’s probably a toss-up between Janelle and Kathryn, for me. I mean, super disruptive. Listen to that laugh. This one’s disruptive.
JM: It’s definitely Kathryn, hands-down. For sure. [laugh]
KATH: I’m flattered to be in the same sentence with you, Janelle.
EN: We should be nuanced here. There’s disrupters, and there’s disruptive.
KATH: Yeah, why are they keeping us so far apart?
Q: There’s some flashbacks in the film… speaking of wardrobe.
MC: It’s just the wigs.
JM: Yes, the hair.
EN: Yes, Edward’s wig.100 percent [laugh]. I say the same thing I always say, which is… My character has never had an original idea in his life. He’s borrowed from others at every phase. But I will say this. Jenny and I did that semi without Rian’s permission.
RO: [laugh] Completely.
EN: And I just walked into the bar [laugh].
Q: There are connections with Tom Cruise’s character from “Magnolia,’ wardrobe-wise. Did you model Miles on any current billionaires?
EN: Go rewind and decide for yourself. Rian and I have been talking about this a lot, the list of people. It could grow longer every day [laugh]. Even some of the ones we might not have thought were candidates have proved themselves to be in recent weeks. I said to Rian, I think that it’s like Carly Simon’s song, “You’re so vain, you’ll probably think this song is about you.” I think that there’s a lot of tech illuminati who probably will and should think that it’s in reference to them — men and women.
Q: We learn a little more of the personal life and background of Benoit in this one. Are there character bibles, mini-stories that you provide each of your actors, or is what you tell them all on the page?
RO: Not really. We probably all had conversations separately. It’s all about what they need. The characters are very much created in the context of the story that’s on the page, and anything anyone needs beyond that, I’m happy to make shit up. The same with Benoit Blanc, It’s not like Daniel and I have a whole backstory bible. In fact, we purposefully try to remind ourselves that the movie is not interesting because you want to know more about Benoit Blanc. The movie’s interesting because of the mystery and the ensemble, and the detective plays his role in the center of that, of solving it. But the notion of doing some backstory for him or something like that… Yeah, it’s all about the mystery.
EN: Daniel did a thing. I asked him what drink he’ll have, and Blanc said, “What do you have?” I said, “Well, I have everything.” And he ad-libbed, “Oh, well, in that case, I’ll have a Chateau le cristo pastis s’il vous plaît.” [laugh] And it was so good. Then he immediately laughed turned and said, “Did I go too far?” And we were like, “Don’t change a thing.” But I found the clip, so I’ve made Daniel say, “I’ll have a Chateau le cristo pastis s’il vous plaît” as my ringtone for him now, when he calls.
Q: Does anyone here share the passion and love of the Agatha Christie stories, this genre that Rian does? Did anybody have a long-standing affection for this genre prior to this?
LO: When I grew up, it was a weekly thing. It was “Murder, She Wrote” and “Perry Mason.” My parents were still watching “Columbo” and “Baretta.” I have warm and fuzzy memories around a weekly murder and a person that you have a real affection for [whose] getting to the bottom of it.
JM: I like murder mystery parties. Hosting them, dressing up. A werewolf is one of my favorites, and an assassin is another. And I’m a villager, and I’m not. Really.
Q: We’ve talked about all these great ensemble moments, these large group scenes. Who gave the best reaction shots? In the edit room, Ram, Rian, were you like, “Oh my god, we need to…”
RO: Oh, jeez. This is going to be a cheat, but everybody was, for different reasons. I feel like you could always cut to anybody in this room. First of all, Maddy always was doing something hilarious in the background of every single shot. After I was editing and staring at this footage for, like, months, I would realize, there’s a whole [lot of] thought and intent. She’s playing a whole joke that’s a whole other screenplay in the background. It’s incredible. It’s amazing. I love Kate’s reaction shots also because you had the best descriptor of how you played your part, which is, as you said, Birdie understands every third word.
KATE: This was the most fun. There were times when we would be sitting there, and it would literally just be a reaction. Rian would go to each one of us and it would be like, “And scream.” you’re like, “Aagh.” We’d all have to do the reaction. I remember turning to Leslie and Kathryn were like, “Was that okay?” “Oh, yeah, no, that was great.” Then it was someone else’s turn. The reaction shots were actually, like, we were all cheering for each other.
Q: Rian, you’ve mastered the modern art of telling a murder mystery. What’s been your favorite thing in bringing a new audience into this type of story?” You’ve really helped bring back this genre that you love so much. That’s got to be a source of pride.
RO: I feel like we’ve ridden a beautiful wave of people rediscovering them, which has been really nice with a lot of other great filmmakers bringing them to life. As a whodunit junkie myself, it makes me really happy. I mentioned Agatha Christie’s books, but those movies were based on her books in the late ’70s and early ’80s. I was a kid watching those with my family, remembering how big of an impact they had. Now the coolest thing for me is talking to friends who have kids around that age, and seeing them get into these movies, recognizing, “Oh, that’s what we made these for.” It’s super, super-cool that they can inspire whoever’s going to do, 30 years from now, their own version of it. That makes me really happy.
EN: A lot of what we’ve seen is reheated beans in a way. The reason that “Knives Out” was so much fun is that Rian has done, as he pointed out, what Agatha Christie was doing which was weaving it into the zeitgeist of the moment. He found a way to have all the fun of the conventions, mechanisms and traditions. But it was laced through with jokes about how no one can remember what country Marta’s from, and an alt-right cousin. You can see the times we’re living in, and characters who represent the foibles of our moment. That gives it that extra thing. In this, maybe even more abundantly so, to take something and make sure that it’s for the audience, that it’s of the moment that they’re living in, that’s not just trying to revitalize the old tropes and old costumes and the thing. It’s like someone observed once, that if something’s opaque, you watch it in a different way. If something’s transparent — then you can see through a thing and see yourself and your moment in it. You enjoy it more, or relate to it more. Rian has pulled that off very uniquely within a rekindled affection for the form.
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Here’s the trailer of the film.